Assessing abstract and 'Employability' skills

Skills Recognition processes can be improved by greater recognition of so-called abstract, soft, tacit or non-technical skills. Abstract skills are particularly important in safety-critical industries such as rail, and recognising these skills is a valuable risk mitigation strategy for enterprises.

Some abstract skills relevant to the rail industry are embedded within the concept of Employability Skills. Employability Skills are sometimes referred to as key skills, core skills, life skills, essential skills, key competencies, necessary skills, transferable skills or generic skills. Currently, there are eight Employability Skills:

  • communication
  • teamwork
  • problem solving
  • initiative and enterprise
  • planning and organising
  • self-management
  • learning
  • technology

These and other abstract skills (decision-making, situational awareness) can be difficult to assess through workplace observation, and it may be necessary to ask the applicant for specific examples that provide evidence of competence. Some examples of questions that can be used during the professional conversation to target employability and other abstract skills are given below.

Evidence of Planning and preparing

'Before you commence a new job or task, how have you established the scope of work to be undertaken, tools and equipment requirements and obtained appropriate resources? How do you monitor variations to the job?'

Evidence of clear Communication

'What procedures do you follow for non-routine events and job variations that occur on the work site?'

'Can you provide an example of a recent job you have performed and the steps you followed when completing service reports and other workplace documentation?'

'What information do you provide in that documentation and how is that communicated to the appropriate persons when completing a job?'

Evidence of Sustainable work practices

'Can you give an example of how you have actively employed sustainable energy principles during and completing a job and when leaving the work site at the end of the day?'

Evidence of Basic computer operations

'What computer applications have you used recently at work, at home, or elsewhere?'

'Can you outline the steps you take when using computer applications, including how information is used, files stored and forwarded?'

Evidence of Occupational Health and Safety

'Can you describe what you do to carry out your obligations and responsibilities prior to commencing work? As well as work preparation, can you explain your obligations and responsibilities under current OH&S legislation?'

'Can you describe/explain what safety processes you have followed before entering a work area? And what procedures you have used to ensure a safe work area, including how tools and equipment are checked for safety and correct functionality?'

'Can you describe the typical hazards have you come across in your work and what risk management control measures did you apply?'

'How would you deal with an accident or fire that has occurred in your work area?'

Evidence of Documenting occupational hazards

'Can you explain where you have used documentation in recording hazards, their risk classification and control measures used?'

ACKNOWLEDGMENT: These questions have been, in part, adapted from The Department of Training and Workforce Development, Western Australia, RPL Assessment Tool, which is a very useful resource for assessors. For more examples of probing questions which you can use in profession conversations go to:

Please visit the National Skills Standards Council (NSSC) website